Improving Airport Passenger Screening

Publication Date: September 2002

Publisher: Reason Foundation

Author(s): Robert W. Jr. Poole

Research Area: Manufacturing and industry; Transportation

Type: Report


The Aviation & Transportation Security Act calls for the federal government to provide passenger and baggage screening at all but five of the nation's 429 commercial-service airports as of November 19, 2002. The other five will opt out of direct federal passenger screening by hiring a qualified private security firm for this purpose. After a two-year period of direct federal provision, all other airports will then be allowed to opt out by choosing a government-certified security firm instead.

This policy study calls for a significant expansion of the opt-out pilot program, which could significantly aid in getting enough trained screeners in place when and where they are needed. It also calls for rethinking the TSA's direct provider role after November 2004, once the new workforce has been hired, trained, and put in place at all airports.

There are two immediate reasons to expand the opt-out pilot program. First, a sample size of just 1 percent of the nation's airports is meaningless, especially with only one airport in each of five security categories. Good (or bad) results could well be the result of chance. The sample size should be at least 10 percent, which means 40+ airports should be allowed to opt out.

Second, expanding the pilot program would be a major help to the TSA. Under current law, the TSA is
supposed to have 33,000 passenger screeners hired and trained by Nov. 19, 2002 and 21,600 checked baggage screeners by Dec. 31, 2002-- a monumental task. There is evidence that airports handling up to 25 percent of all originating passengers are interested in opting out. This evidence comes from the fact that 19 airports applied for the five original slots in the pilot program, and also from interviews with airport directors carried out by Reason Foundation for this study.